One of the stranger stories of late has been the apparent snubbing of two black children by someone dressed as the Sesame Street character Rosita at the children's theme park Sesame Place, which has turned into a controversy with allegations of racist behavior. An odd enough story on its own, MSNBC host Joy Reid made the story surrounding the incident even odder on Tuesday evening’s ReidOut by using it to attack Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s recent anti-CRT bill.
The bizarre line of attack came at the end of a segment about the incident with civil rights attorney Charles Coleman Jr. Coleman ended by telling Reid, “when something like this happens, you have to take it seriously because the fallout as we are seeing can be tremendous.”
Since taking the problem “seriously” in Reid’s mind would most likely involve a heavy dose of Critical Race Theory, she launched into a lengthy diatribe against her favorite conservative bogeyman, Ron DeSantis:
And by the way, this is another statement about why it's important who you vote for because this is in Pennsylvania, where there's at least a chance...— you know, if this was in Florida, they have now passed this anti-woke law that said that they couldn’t even do the diversity training and the communication internally that Sesame Place has vowed to do because Ron DeSantis doesn't like that. He doesn't like anything that makes white — uh, white — white people feel uncomfortable so they couldn’t even do it if they were in Florida. Be careful who you vote for.
The “anti-woke law” Reid referred to was HB 7 (summarized here and can be read in full here), which stated that it is unlawful for employers to train employees to believe that race, sex, or country makes someone morally superior to someone else, or that someone is responsible for the actions of others who share the aforementioned characteristics.
Therefore, there's nothing in the bill making it illegal for Sesame Place to ensure its workers aren’t intentionally ignoring black children.
Not only is HB 7 not racist, but some of its provisions are decidedly anti-racist in the truest sense of that maligned word. Take, for example, the summarized version of how African-American history is to be taught in Florida schools:
The bill expands required instruction in the history of African-Americans. For example, the bill requires that African-American history instruction develop in students an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping on individual freedoms, and examine what it means to be a responsible and respectful person, for the purpose of encouraging tolerance of diversity and for nurturing and protecting democratic values and institutions.
Remember, white supremacy is teaching children about African-American history “for the purpose of encouraging tolerance of diversity.” Good grief.
Whether or not Sesame Place’s promised “bias training” would run afoul of HB 7 is unknown, and the number of similar videos appearing after the original story broke indicated Sesame Workshop may not have made the best hiring decisions.
But sure Joy, let’s attack the man trying to keep toxic and divisive perspectives on race relations out of the classroom and workforce.
Click “Expand” to see the relevant transcript.
MSNBC’s The ReidOut
7:33:25 PM ET
JOY REID: Okay. Friends of the show know that I love Sesame Street. I mean, who doesn't love a fuzzy blue Muppet? Grover, you know I'm looking at you. I also love what Sesame Street stands for, its commitment to education, reading, and arithmetic, but also its intentional vision of a diverse and inclusive neighborhood, something America struggled to accept when the show debuted in the late 1960s. Which is why so many people are especially gutted over the alleged snubbing of two adorable little black girls at Sesame Place, the children's theme park in Pennsylvania.
Now, to be clear, Sesame Place has a licensing agreement with Sesame Workshop but is operated by SeaWorld’s Parks and Entertainment, not by the folks who make Sesame Street. A viral video appears to capture Sesame Street character Rosita brushing off two young black girls reaching out for hugs during a parade. That’s according to the mother of one of the girls who posted the video on Instagram.
Sesame Place initially apologized in a statement saying the performer’s “no” hand gesture was not specifically directed at the girls. Well when that didn’t go over so well they released a second apology saying, “we are committed to making this right.”
Back with me again is Charles Coleman Jr., a civil rights attorney and former prosecutor. And — and Charles, thank you for sticking with us. We did try to get on — um, the attorney — it was B’Ivory LaMarr — um, for the families, but we had a little bit of technical difficulties getting him on so I — we really appreciate you coming in and — and pinch-hitting.
But I — I want to talk about — I want to first play one of the moms, Jody Brown. She's the mother of one of the little girls and the aunty of the other little girl. This is what she said earlier today on CNN.
[Cuts to clip]
JODY BROWN [on CNN’s Newsroom, 07/19/22]: The kids are supposed to be — you know, happy and — you know, acknowledged and greeted and having a good time so the fact that this even happened, the fact that this was even going to be a core memory for them — um, when it comes to Sesame Place is actually disgusting and unbelievable. [SCREEN WIPE] So now that I spoke up and released my video now there's multiple parents who have similar videos with that character doing the same thing to the same race of children — um, so for me that's not a coincidence at all.
[End of clip]
REID: I mean, indeed. I have on my Instagram a bunch of these other videos I — that I pulled from Jackie Reid's Instagram feed. And the theGrio has a story that social media is up in arms — um, that there are other families who are now posting videos — you know, saying that they’ve had the same treatment go to their kids. Your thoughts on this and what kind of — you know, I don't know — what could the family theoretically do because it is emotional distress, right?
CHARLES COLEMAN JR.: It's absolutely emotional distress and I do think that, at a minimum, the family should be looking to pursue some level of legal remedy that addresses what happened with injunctive relief and potentially some degree of financial compensation. Now before we talk about being litigious I think for me the biggest takeaway and the bigger point is that — believe black people.
Okay, when we have these experiences where we say that something happened because of what it is and how it is that we show off and the skin that we show up in, we're not making this up. And I think all too often there is a haste in which people look to tell us, no, what you experienced is not what actually happened, when in fact we know very well that it is.
And what we have learned in the coming — you know, in the — in the following days and the moments after this has occurred is that more people have spoken out and more people have said, no, I actually had the same experience, and so it is the most abhorrent form of gaslighting for you to tell these people, no, I know that you think what happened to you happened to you, but it really didn't happen to you, when in fact we know that it did and this happens all the time which is why it's important that these families together as a collective look to hold Sesame Place and its ownership accountable.
REID: Right. I mean — and Sesame Place said that they reached out to the family — you know, they sent us another statement saying that they — you know, tried to make it right. They said what these kids experienced is unacceptable. They said they’ve been in contact — but — but I mean the thing is for lots and lots of families who have experienced the same thing with their children.
I have another friend who’s got an adopted daughter who is Asian-American who said she experienced it many years ago. You know, other people with black children or — you know, black parents are all going on Instagram and saying, no, this happened to my little black kid. There’s something systemically wrong.
I mean, Sesame Street was literally created to give little brown and black kids an opportunity to learn. Rosita is the first bilingual Muppet — they’ve got an Asian-American Muppet, a Muppet in a wheelchair on Sesame Street. It’s perverting the idea of Sesame Street because people associate the two.
COLEMAN: Which is why I think Sesame Street and its owners should be extremely concerned about how this works. The show Sesame Street exists in a vacuum and a utopia called television, where you can edit, where you can look at things more closely and understand how they work. The unfortunate reality is that Sesame Place is an actual place with actual people who bring their prejudices, who bring their privilege, who bring their black blind spots, who bring their bigotry to their jobs and hide literally behind a mask as a means of being able to express these things.
But the problem, Joy, is that this can actually do reputational damage to your brand —
COLEMAN: — if you are not vigilant about addressing these things, which is why it has to be of paramount concern for Sesame Place to actually address. You have to be on top of these things systemically because at the end of the day while you make — while you may make valiant efforts to do a thorough vetting process, you ultimately don't know who you're hiring these days, and so when something like this happens, you have to take it seriously because the fallout as we are seeing can be tremendous.
REID: And by the way, this is another statement about why it's important who you vote for because this is in Pennsylvania, where there's at least a chance —
COLEMAN: Yes, it is.
REID: — you know, if this was in Florida, they have now passed this anti-woke law that said that they couldn’t even do the diversity training and the communication internally that Sesame Place has vowed to do because Ron DeSantis doesn't like that. He doesn't like anything that makes white — uh, white — white people feel uncomfortable so they couldn’t even do it if they were in Florida. Be careful who you vote for.
Charles Coleman, thank you very much, really appreciate you.